HFS Fans: Adult Alternative Returns, Sort Of
Fans of acoustic rock, folk and blues in the Washington area have been bereft of a home on the FM band since the demise of WHFS last year. Now public radio station WAMU, which itself jettisoned bluegrass music to go all news and talk in 2001, is teaming up with an adult alternative station in Towson, Md., to bring the acoustic sound back to the nation's capital.
But before anyone starts to cheer for the return of a station that plays a mix that includes Dave Matthews, The Bridge, John Fogerty, Suzanne Vega, Moby, Beck, The Kooks and The Killers--to name a few groups whose work aired on the Towson station's morning show yesterday--a word of warning: The new WAMU second channel, which launches today, will be available only to folks who have bought the new digital radios, which are being sold as "HD Radio" and will set you back a good $300.
If there are even one thousand owners of HD radios in the metropolitan area, I will eat a printout of this post. Still, the broadcast radio biz, eager to show some signs of creative life while fighting the competition from iPods and satellite radio, is betting on this new technology, which allows existing radio stations to create second and third channels. In WAMU's case, you tune to 88.5 FM and find not only the station that's available on any old FM radio, but also WAMU-2, which will be a simulcast of the programming that Baltimore area rock fans find on WTMD (89.7 FM up there.) The sound quality is very good, but so far, there are only a few models of HD radios on the market, and they are pricey and cumbersome, limited to table radios and a few car stereos.
WTMD general manager Stephen Yasko tells me that "this unique partnership will drive sales of HD radio. Most other HD programming is either jukeboxes or national services. This is the first time two stations have partnered to create a local service. WTMD has always seen Washington as part of its local area since so many of the bands we play perform at 930 or the Black Cat. So WAMU gets a very local sounding radio station for their HD side channel and we believe listeners will find that appealing enough to invest in an HD radio."
We shall see. If you do happen to have or plan to get an HD radio, you'll likely find something interesting happening on the new WAMU-2. The Towson station not only produces about 16 hours a day of its own music programming, with a heavy emphasis on the local music scene, but also carries some of the best public radio music shows, most of which are not heard in the Washington area. That means programs such as World Cafe, a collection of world and acoustic tunes from WXPN in Philadelphia, and Sounds Eclectic, Nic Harcourt's splendid mix of music from KCRW in Santa Monica.
Will listeners decide to spend a few hundred on a radio that promises to deliver some of the formats that you'd have to shell out $13 a month to hear on XM or Sirius satellite radio? It hardly seems likely as long as the offerings on HD radio are as thin as they are now, but this technology is in its infancy, and the price and variety of the radios will improve, as should the programming on the new second channels. The battle is just beginning.
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: Phil | November 14, 2006 1:34 PM
Posted by: Chris | November 14, 2006 2:56 PM
Posted by: Tom | November 14, 2006 3:01 PM
Posted by: dynagirl | November 14, 2006 3:38 PM
Posted by: mark | November 14, 2006 3:44 PM
Posted by: BF | November 14, 2006 3:49 PM
Posted by: music fan | November 14, 2006 5:18 PM
Posted by: YAWN! | November 14, 2006 6:26 PM
Posted by: opinions are like.. | November 14, 2006 8:21 PM
Posted by: h3 | November 15, 2006 10:08 AM
Posted by: Pete | November 16, 2006 11:33 AM
The comments to this entry are closed.